A new study found that buying products that claim to be made with low environmental impact could set up "moral credentials" in people's minds that give license to selfish or questionable behaviour.
"This was not done to point the finger at consumers who buy green products. The message is bigger. At the end of the day, if we do one moral thing, IT doesn't necessarily mean we will be morally better in other things as well," said Nina Mazar, a marketing professor at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.
Mazar and co-author Chen-Bo Zhong, conducted three experiments and in the first one they found that people perceived green consumers to be more cooperative, altruistic and ethical than those who purchased conventional products.
The second experiment showed that participants merely exposed to products from a green store shared more money in a subsequent experimental game, but those who actually made purchases in that store shared less.
The final experiment revealed that participants who bought items in the green store showed evidence of lying and stealing money in a subsequent lab game.
The study has been published in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science.